Theater Review: NUNSENSE (Coronado Playhouse in Coronado/San Diego)

Post image for Theater Review: NUNSENSE (Coronado Playhouse in Coronado/San Diego)

by Milo Shapiro on September 16, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


When you’re picking shows for your season, you’re off to a good start when you pick the second-longest-running show in Off-Broadway history. One that’s been produced in 26 languages. One that’s spun off five sequels. And perhaps most telling, one that came full circle to be produced in Brazil and NYC with five men playing the nuns (perhaps how it should have been produced from the start in 1985!).

Because of the versatility of the roles, mostly playable by women of any ages, the show has been a return-to-stage vehicle for the likes of Kaye Ballard, Sally Struthers, Pat Carroll, Phyllis Diller, JoAnne Worley, and others. Perhaps most famous for the Mother Superior role is Rue McClanahan, because book and songwriter Dan Goggin had her Broadway version of Nunsense taped for a television release.

So what’s the story? Well, the backstory is more significant than the plot, actually. The sisters explain to us that, one night recently, a handful of the nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken had been off playing Bingo with another order. While they were gone, their chef Sister Julia, Child of God, had made a tainted batch of soup, killing all 52 of the nuns on site. Mother Superior had found a clever way to raise enough money to bury 48 of them, but the remaining four of them are still in the downstairs freezer (the blue nuns). Thus, the six survivors need to fundraise enough to put them in the ground before the NJ Board of Health finds out. So how might six desperate nuns suddenly come up with the money? Well, of course, they host a talent showand we are their audience for that.

Amy Oliverio as Reverend Mother

Given that the sisters aren’t tremendously talents (note: this comment refers to the characters, not the actresses), the fun is far more in getting to know the six of them than them displaying their talents. In fact, most of the musical is the sisters breaking into songs about their feelings than singing the next bit in the supposed show.

Denae Steele as Sister Robert Anne

They’re an odd lot with strong bonds that make them a family, but suddenly putting on a show tests their limits. Two of them, Mother Superior and Sister Robert Ann (Any Oliverio and Denae Steele), crave and compete for the spotlight, while struggling with their vows of modesty and humility. Sister Mary Leo (Jana Russick) is clearly being torn between her love of being a nun and her call to be a dancer. Sister Hubert (Lenelle Wylie) shares her challenge to always have to follow Mother Superior’s lead when, sometimes, it’s clear that she knows better. Sister Mary Cordelia (Fiona Byrne) just wants everyone to get along and Sister Mary Amnesia (Amelia Campbell) longs to remember who she was before a crucifix fell on her head.

The Cast

Director Evangeline “Angie” Bitsko paces it nicely with wisely-uncomplicated choreography by Megan Geier, believable for a bunch of novices (get it? hehe…expect a lot of nun-puns.) Wylie is a stand out, with one of the more powerful voices and arguably the best song of the night, the concluding “Holier Than Thou.” Oliverio carries her significant role well but, having seen other productions, she plays her a bit sweet; the hard-edged crust seen in other Mother Superiors can be the source of some good contrast.

Denae Steele as Sister Robert Anne

Despite lots of laughs, the show is a bit dated. Some references have been updated (a VCR purchase from 1985 is now a SmartTV) but other jokes remain that could fail to connect with younger folks who won’t recall Brenda Lee, Pippi Longstocking, or Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar speech. Likewise, a reference to the Mother Superior finding a bottle of something called “Rush” got a big laugh…from about four people in the audience who knew what it was. Eventually, everyone catches on that it’s something that gets you high if you inhale it, but the more-innocent Coronado Playhouse sample group needed that extra time.

The Cast

Nothing deep or thought-provoking here, yet this reviewer came to see it for his third or fourth time. Why? Because it’s a sweet, delightful tribute to human spirit and, happily, Coronado Playhouse reveled in its joy.

photos by Ken Jacques

Coronado Playhouse
1835 Strand Way, Coronado, CA 92118
Thurs and Fri at 8, Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2ends on Sept 17, 2023for tickets, call (619) 435-4856  or visit Coronado Playhouse

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Buzz October 17, 2023 at 2:54 am

Thank you for this post. Silly show, but I enjoyed it.


Leave a Comment